Let’s address the monkey in the room as many reviewers have before me – Genshin Impact from the development team at MiHoYo – does have many similarities to the Nintendo Switch launch title The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wilds. While in some aspects the comparisons are warranted, from the base-level approach to free-roaming world-exploration to the emphasis on gliding your way across chasms, there are many ways in which the experience is notably different. These differences range from more noticeable inclusions such as gacha mechanics and co-op gameplay, down to core structural differences such as the presentation of its storyline, implementation of RPG levelling/equipment mechanics and indestructible weapons.
While there is no initial financial investment required to begin your journey, is it worth the investment of your valuable time? Keep reading to find out!
The Great: Open world exploration at its finest
I will admit being a little sceptical before commencing my playthrough of Genshin Impact, particularly around how the open-world experience would fare. This was primarily because while there are many great smart device games out there, they usually focus on smaller experiences which last a few minutes rather than a grand adventure that you can pass by hours playing. That scepticism passed the moment I commenced playing. After starting on a sandy beach and going through a quick tutorial, you are presented with a breathtaking view of the world you are given almost free reign to explore.
Similar to other open-world exploration games, you have the freedom to navigate the entire game world by foot, swimming or climbing – provided you keep your stamina in mind to prevent drowning or falling to your demise. One of the greatest joys I had playing Genshin Impact was heading off into a random direction, being almost guaranteed to encounter new challenges, collectables to find and a plentiful bounty of treasure to unlock. World exploration rewards players who don’t just run through what it has to offer. That odd-looking boulder might hold treasure, taking your time to understand your surroundings may hold the key to completing a quest or thinking outside the box with your character’s abilities may lead to encountering a secret island.
In terms of progression in the world, you are given an adequate level of freedom right from the start. However, unlike many other games where you traditionally work your way from easier levels to more demanding levels, Genshin Impact scales in difficulty with the player. There are two forms of levelling – the level of each character which impacts how they perform in battle and an Adventurer Level which monitors your progress through the game. As the latter increases, your World Rank will incrementally increase, meaning that more formidable enemies will prowl the environments carrying greater loot. It gives you a great incentive to reexplore old areas and giving enemies who might have once been a cakewalk, a bit of extra bite, requiring new strategies to defeat.
There is a lot of content spaced out across the current landmass explorable in Genshin Impact, ranging from single player / co-op Abyssal Domain dungeons, Ley Line Outcrops which are used to spawn in powerful enemies, and a range of collectables which can be used to gain perks such as rare items and stamina boosts. Furthermore, while there is an energy system implemented, as is the case with virtually all gacha games, this is focused more on opening special loot boxes rather than exploration. So doing much of what Genshin Impact has to offer isn’t time-locked. Oh, and don’t worry about having to wait an ungodly number of real-world hours before proceeding with a task… there is none of that.
The Excellent: Cel-Shaded visuals and creative musical score lends itself to a picturesque anime aesthetic
While there are graphics options available to smart-device users which make Genshin Impact run smoothly on lower-spec’d devices, I cannot recommend enough that (where possible) you ditch the portable devices and download the game on your PC or PlayStation 4. This is to ensure you get to experience appreciating the fantastic anime-style cel-shaded graphics. While it may be a little bit off-putting at first if you have primarily played realistic open-world games in the past, the world quickly grows on you.
Each section of the world map has much attention-to-detail put into it, despite being (as of writing) many kilometres wide in each of the cardinal directions. Even though there is a lot of terrain to cover, the world is designed to offer players both unique challenges for each region and be visually identifiable from one another. From the surrounding environments and landmass design, one grassy plain can easily look distinguishable from another. This means you can track where you have travelled to, without being as reliant on the world map.
The Good: A solid start to the narrative
Genshin Impact begins with a dramatic introductory cutscene of two siblings going up against a god-like denizen. After picking and naming your starting character (virtually, a choice between male or female), they are transported to a fantasy world known as Teyrat. Searching for their missing sibling, the protagonist begins their journey with new companion Paimon and a small but growing cast of characters as they join the Knights of Favonius and start meeting a colourful cast of humans and gods. The storyline of Genshin Impact is only just beginning, with the prologue and first chapter currently implemented in the game as of writing serving more as an introduction to the adventure ahead. That said, although a simple tale being weaved so far, it does lend itself much better to the unpredictable longevity of the game, in my opinion.
In addition to the main story quests, there is a couple of dozen “World Quests” currently implemented into the game for players to unlock. Some of these focus on the different recruitable characters, while others are shorter quests which are unlocked by merely exploring the world. These quests tend to fall into players performing the usual motions of “Go to X”, “Deliver Y” or “Defeat Z”, however, these are complemented with relatively rich storytelling. While spaced out during the available content, many of these quests are one-time-only, and after grinding a few days you can end up in what could be a long wait for new content.
The Worrying: Gacha Rates are Low… Very Low…
Genshin Impact is a gacha game in the sense that aside from the four characters you unlock initially (which are honestly good enough to progress through current content) and a few event characters, everyone else must be obtained through a random draw rather than through the story. Either by slowly acquiring this currency through in-game activities or quickly by spending real-world money, you can perform “Wishes”. The game’s primary gacha system, each roll provides you with (mostly) three-star weapons, four-star weapons or characters, or (very rarely) one of the in-demand five-star characters.
While most games I have played in the past have a 1% drop rate when it comes to unlocking characters, obtaining a 5-star character OR weapon has a base drop rate of 0.6%. While you are guaranteed at least one five star item after 90 drops, this means you could spend hundreds of dollars real-world equivalent for only a 5-star weapon.
This is incredibly tough if you want a specific character and are left with worse-than-normal odds of pulling them. If you, like myself, have been enjoying the game’s photography mode, it can be mentally struggling knowing that you might not get the character you want to fit the scene you have chosen. Especially when more characters are introduced in subsequent updates, it would be nice to see the odds increased a little bit, especially since after the initial wave, the game is rather stingy handing out their premium Primogem currency.
Taking this into consideration, if you are known to have issues with gambling or spending well over your limit on a whim, then I would strongly advise you to bypass this game (and all other games with gacha or “surprise mechanics”) and look for a console or PC game which has a flat-fee single-player and/or online mode. I struggled at times to resist the urge to spend tens if not hundreds of dollars on getting the character I wanted – the allure of 3D characters being stronger than 2D characters – and I have at least one friend who did not. So if you are going into this with the mindset of being a “Free to Play” player, stick to that goal, or play the reroll game until you get your favourite character.
In need of improvement: Current endgame is limited
Genshin Impact is still a game fresh on the market, and I would expect its endgame content to be rolled out incrementally as additional chapters are developed and delivered in the coming weeks and months. However, as things stand, once you have explored through all current content, there is little to keep you occupied until the next update rolls around. There is a rudimentary co-op mode to explore the world with friends, daily commission quests and a challenge mode which resets itself every fortnight. But, there are no community guilds, randomly generated dungeons or long-term content to keep you coming back for the long haul… yet.
Overall Opinion on Genshin Impact: Lots of potential!
Genshin Impact is a gacha game with all the makings of a AAA-quality open-world adventure game. If you can hold your wallet, you can potentially enjoy a solid 20-30 hour single or multiplayer journey for free, without being too inconvenienced by your decision to go free-to-play. For those who wish to spend the money for a better experience… be very lucky or set yourself a strict limit. Overall, the game delivers a strong first impression, presenting players with what could very well be a new standard for gacha games in the future, or at least a rare enjoyable outlier. Genshin Impact is definitely a game to keep your eye on!
You can begin downloading Genshin Impact for the PC, PlayStation 4, Android and iOS gaming platforms HERE.